Also known as Haryardhamurti, the origins of this deity have been propounded in the Vamanapurana. When the devas gathered before Vishnu in their search for Shiva, Vishnu had revealed this form to them. Harihara could have also been formed to vanquish the arrogant demon Guhasura whom Brahma had given a boon. The boon in question stated that neither Hari (Vishnu) nor Hara (Shiva) would be able to kill him. Harihara is the deity to have overpowered and slayed Him; the place where this happened in Chitradurga, Karnataka, is now named after this deity and houses a lovely Shankaranarayana temple (Shankara is another name for Shiva; Narayana, for Vishnu). The iconography in question could be traced to centuries ago, specifically to the Kusana period of Indian history.
At the juncture of awakening, when the former prince of a North Indian warring clan transitioned from the hungering acetic to the Buddha Himself, He touched (sparsha) a finger to the earth (bhumi), invoking it as His witness. The sootras narrate how the grahas (planets) came to a standstill and the entirety of jivas (living creatures) made their obeisance to Him. Despite being beyond the scope of art and literature, the superb brasswork captures the glamour of Shakyamuni's unsurpassed awakening. "Do not look to me," Shakyamuni had said, "but to the enlightenment state."
Hinduism is a very complex dharma, and Vishnu its most complex deity. Part of the holy trinity comprising of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer), to Vaishnavas He is the overlord while Brahma and Shiva merely do His bidding. His form is boundless, character non-specific, influence wide-ranging. His slender crown looms atop His head, at the back of which glows an engaved angular halo.
The first impression gleaned from a cursory glance at the Nataraja is one of dynamic energy. In stark contrast to the Mahayogin image of Shiva wherein His divine energies are seemingly drawn inward, Nataraja exudes His force in all eight directions. His presence pervades all spaces, across all quanta of time. His limbs are in natyasthana: the right foot crushes the pulverises the apasmara that is the very picture of tamas, while the left foot is raised mid-air to the right of His torso.
The much-revered Shiva parivar comprises of His wife, Parvati, and Their 2 sons, Ganesha and Kartika. Shiva Himself takes centrestage. His two posterior arms are holding divine weapons to battle adharma; He raises one anterior hand in blessing, while with the other He secures the lovely Parvati on His lap. She is also seated in lalitasana, and holds in Her hand a weapon. The harmonious, self-sufficient unit of life that They form together is superbly expressed in the way Their respective silhouettes have been made to align with each other by the artisans. Their intricately crafted, perfectly symmetrical crowns tower above Their heads, Their silk dhoties and ample shringar fit for the celestial realm They belong to. Seated in union on a layered lotus pedestal, with the graceful much-devoted Nandi sitting at the base, They form a complete picture of blissful togetherness.
They are flanked by Ganesha and Kartika, each of Whom has been sculpted with Their iconographies intact. From Ganesha's adorable elephant head, the baby fat on His form, and the humungous laddoo in His hand; to Kartika's radiant handsomeness and the sublime proportions of His form. Like Their parents, Their shringar is flawless and Their stance that of great benevolence and blessing. They are each on a much smaller layered lotus pedestal, which together with Shiva-Parvati's seat are placed on an elaborate stand decorated with petal engravings. The aureole equals it in maginificence. The sheer detailing on each layer - the outermost wave-like curves, followed by the twisted lotus petals, the smooth rim as if of a halo, more twisted petals, and two rings engraved with rangoli-esque motifs - sets this ensemble apart from run-of-the-mill enshrined Shiva-parivar statues.
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